You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but the gangling, bespectacled Justin Townes Earle was once a heavily intoxicated troublemaker. Following in the drugged and drunken footsteps of his father, the alt-country pioneer Steve Earle, he went off the rails at an early age.
Justin Townes Earle - ABC, Glasgow
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But those wild days are behind him. Now 33, he’s been sober since 2010. At tonight’s warm, informal Celtic Connections showcase, he came across as a droll survivor whose action-packed life has informed a piquant songbook. As a writer, he’s more than a match for daddy.
The titles of his last two albums, the companion pieces Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, speak of an artist who isn’t afraid to infuse his work with touching strains of autobiography. That was no more apparent tonight than on the beautiful Mama’s Eyes, in which he paid tribute to the woman who raised him in Earle Snr’s absence.
The punchline was a kicker: after a few verses in which he admitted that he’s undoubtedly his wayward father’s son, he concluded by noting, “I still see wrong from right, ‘cause I’ve got my mama’s eyes.”
During tender moments like these, he silenced a packed venue that doesn’t usually lend itself to intimacy.
Accompanied only by a guitarist who occasionally provided some gorgeous pedal steel, Earle was on avuncular form as he traded sad laments with rollicking fan favourites such as Harlem River Blues. This reformed character is clearly an exceptional talent. Mama, daddy too, must be proud.
Seen on 17.01.15